IndyCar: Hard work pays off with Pocono win, but Montoya wants more (VIDEO)

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Outside of having four tires, there’s not much similarity between a stock car and an IndyCar. Among the many differences between them is how to drive them.

After seven years of driving NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, Juan Pablo Montoya needed to physically and mentally change in order to make the switch back to IndyCar racing, where he won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and that year’s CART title before going to Formula One for what would be a six-year run over there.

From sweating in the gym to re-learning his open-wheel rhythm in the cockpit, Montoya has been working very hard to become a successful IndyCar driver again.

On Sunday at Pocono Raceway, it all paid off for him with his first Indy-car win in almost 14 years – 13 years, nine months, 20 days to be precise, which makes him just the third Indy-car driver since 1909 to go more than a decade between wins (Babe Stapp, John Paul Jr.).

Not that such history really matters to him.

“If you look at everything I did [and] I’ve accomplished so far in racing…20 years from now, they’re going to go, ‘Oh my God, this guy did this,'” he said in post-race. “Right now, I don’t really care.

“Now, I’m thinking about what are we going to do for Iowa. Tomorrow, we’ll have fun with the team and plan how we’re going to run [next] weekend, and what we did right this weekend [and] what we did wrong.”

But while Montoya wouldn’t acknowledge the historical stuff from his win on Sunday- which also includes the fact that he won the fastest 500-mile race in Indy-car history – he did acknowledge that it’s been tough getting re-acclimated to open-wheel.

“It’s been a long road,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than people realize because as I said the other day, driving open-wheel [cars] is so different than what I’ve been driving the last few years, and it was going to take time.”

Perhaps that why prior to today, Montoya had only been allowing himself to say things like “getting there” instead of something a bit more affirmative when it came to his process.

“I don’t like jinxing it and saying, ‘Oh, it’s coming, it’s coming,'” he said. “I’d rather be, ‘Let’s just keep working on it.'”

But Pocono definitely marks a milestone in the process, which, if it hasn’t reached its conclusion now is very close to doing so.

As mentioned earlier, Montoya has turned up the wick in the last four races with a third at Texas, a second and a seventh in the Houston doubleheader, and now, the W.

Thanks to that run, Montoya has become a legitimate title contender at just 55 points behind Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, who are now tied in first place.

Remarkably, a second series championship is a possibility for Montoya with seven races left in the 2014 campaign. And now that the big prize is in sight, he’s going to work even harder.

“I’m still a ways away, but hey, I think people know that I’m coming, and it’s good,” he said. “It’s definitely a plus.

“I think it’s something that is helping and I’ve got to keep that in mind – I got to [this point] because I’ve been really smart about it, and it’s got to be that way.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.